The Bluespotted Ribbontail Ray

Bluespotted Ribbontail Ray (Taeniura lymma)
Bluespotted Ribbontail Ray (Taeniura lymma)
by B. N. Sullivan

The Bluespotted Ribbontail Ray (Taeniura lymma) is one of the smaller members of the stingray family, Dasyatidae.  We think it's also the nicest looking stingray, sporting those wonderful, eye-catching blue spots.

An Indo-Pacific species, this ray is found in the Red Sea, in coastal areas of the Indian Ocean, and around the coasts and islands of Southeast Asia.  Despite its wide distribution range, these critters are becoming scarce in some areas due to the aquarium trade:  their pretty coloration and smallish size make them attractive to keepers of saltwater aquariums.  Unfortunately, these rays do not do very well in captivity.

They are dependent on coral reef habitats for their survival.  They forage in sand patches for small crustaceans, molluscs and other invertebrates.  Naturally, their populations also have declined in areas where reefs have been degraded by development, overfishing, and so on.

The Bluespotted Ribbontail Ray pictured on this page is an adult, roughly one foot (30cm) wide.  I photographed it at Pulau Sipadan, Malaysia.

The Hawksbill Sea Turtle, a Critically Endangered Species

Hawksbill Sea Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata)
Hawksbill Sea Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata)
by B. N. Sullivan

This is the Hawksbill Sea Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata), listed as Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). This turtle species inhabits all tropical and subtropical seas around the world, but its numbers continue to decline.

The IUCN Hawksbill Turtle page notes:
extensive subpopulation declines in all major ocean basins over the last three Hawksbill generations as a result of over-exploitation of adult females and eggs at nesting beaches, degradation of nesting habitats, take of juveniles and adults in foraging areas, incidental mortality relating to marine fisheries, and degradation of marine habitats.
The IUCN estimates that "the overall decline of the species, when considered within the context of three generations, has been in excess of 80%."

While habitat degradation, trafficking in turtle eggs and meat, and incidental catch by marine fisheries threaten all sea turtle species, the Hawksbill population also has suffered due to what is known as the Tortoiseshell trade.  "Tortoiseshell" -- the material used for combs, hair ornaments, and inlays on furniture and other decorative items  -- comes not so much from tortoises, but from the carapaces of Hawksbill Turtles. Tortoiseshell collection and trade has been banned under CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) since 1973, yet enforcement in some parts of the world remains lax.

I photographed the Hawksbill Sea Turtle on this page at Thomas Reef in the Tiran Straits of the Red Sea.

More information about Hawksbill Sea Turtles;

Unspoiled Reef in the Red Sea

Unspoiled reef, Little Brother Island, Red Sea
Unspoiled reef in the Red Sea
by B. N. Sullivan

This is the kind of scene that divers' dreams are made of: a pristine reef in a remote location.

We have been asked many times to name our favorite dive destination.  While it's difficult to choose just one location, we would have to include the Brothers Islands in the Red Sea among our top choices.  The remoteness of these two tiny specks, situated about 67 km (about 42 miles) off the eastern coast of Egypt, has helped to keep their lush reefs unspoiled.  The middle-of-nowhere location also attracts many large pelagic fishes of the sort not often seen around near-shore reefs.

The only way to get to the Brothers Islands is via a live-aboard dive boat.  It takes a full day (or overnight) at sea for the boats to reach the Brothers from coastal ports like Hurghada, Safaga or Quseir.  The voyage to the Brothers and back to the coast can be punishing due to rough seas, and dives there can be challenging due to unusually strong currents and choppy surface conditions.  But for experienced divers, the reefs along the near-vertical walls on the flanks of both seamounts (Little Brother and Big Brother) afford some of the most spectacular underwater scenery on the planet.

I photographed this dreamy, tranquil reef scene at Little Brother Island.   We think it illustrates why this location, in our experience, is a contender for Diver Heaven.

All Tucked In: Clownfish in a Carpet Anemone Mantle

Orange Skunk Clownfish (Amphiprion sandaracinos)
Orange Skunk Clownfish (Amphiprion sandaracinos)
by B. N. Sullivan

This cute little fish really didn't want to have its picture taken.  It was hovering above the tentacles of a carpet anemone when we first spotted it, but as we approached, the fish dived under the anemone's mantle to hide.

I settled in at close range, selected the settings on my camera, and just waited. And waited. And waited some more. Finally the little clownfish peeked out (as we knew it would) and I got my shot.

The fish is an Orange Skunk Clownfish (Amphiprion sandaracinos). I'm not sure of the anemone species, but I believe it belongs to the genus Stichodactyla. I took the photo at  Pulau Mantehage, one of the islands in Bunaken National Park, a marine park in Indonesia.